Council Briefs from Dec. 15 meeting

Details about strategic planning, sludge, grants and the electrical utility bylaw – all from the latest meeting of Grand Forks City Council.

Strategic plan

At the regular council meeting on Dec. 15, staff received approval from council to appoint a facilitator for a strategic planning session that would define council’s strategic plan for 2015-18 in accordance with the city’s purchasing policy.

“In accordance with our purchasing policy, we will have some verbal quotes to find out what kind of facilitator would best suit us,” said acting chief administrative officer Diane Heinrich. “We have some quotes already. It’s just a matter of determining which one. Quotes are ranging between $5-10,000.”

Heinrich told staff that the more expensive options include a survey for residents.

The sessions are traditionally held at the end of January or beginning of February, said Heinrich.

“I think it’s important that the community has input into our strategic plan,” said Councillor Julia Butler. “But I think when the surveys come out we need to be very pointed. I’m sure the people that do these have experience doing that. The questions need to be specific and not broad and general, and maybe we need to leave room for comments.”

Coun. Chris Hammett suggested council use the survey from the AKBLG to aid planning.

Powell speaks

After a quick vote at the behest of Butler, William Powell spoke to council about his company which uses enzymes and macrobilials to dissolve sludge in sewage lagoons. Powell hopes that council will consider his product for use in the city’s excess sludge.

“He came out to a council meeting maybe about six months ago that I attended when I was a member of the public,” said Butler. “I heard him speak about his company and I found it very interesting. I was hoping the city at that time would have given him an ear considering the amount of money that it was going to cost to do the physical removal (of the sludge at the sewage lagoons) it definitely sounded like an option that needed to be looked at.”

Butler said when she saw the sludge removal options come up on the agenda she contacted Powell and asked him to come and speak.

“Cost-wise it could save us hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings,” she said. “It’s in the best interest of the taxpayers to look at this option.”

Powell’s presentation was accepted by council for information purposes. Sasha Bird, manager of development and engineering, said that the city is currently, in conjunction with their consultants, reviewing various options for sludge removal.

Grants

Grand Forks city council is hoping a pair of grants.

Council approved a recommendation to allow staff to proceed with applying for grant funding for the Small Communities Fund and Strategic Priorities Fund (gas tax) grants.

Bird told council that the Small Communities Fund is funded equally by the provincial, federal and municipal governments (1/3 each) and the application deadline is Feb. 18. The Strategic Priorities Fund is gas tax money and is 100 per cent funded by the province. The deadline for that is April 15.

“Through the asset management plan we’ve looked at some of the priority essential projects we’ve had either on the books or recently come up because of regulatory requirements,” she said. “The one project we were looking at for putting an application in for the Small Communities Fund is the sewage effluent disposal and treatment ($500,000). The other project is the roof replacement on the east side reservoir which would go to the Strategic Priorities Fund. We have the ability to apply for two capital projects and one capacity building project as part of that fund.”

Bird said that the reservoir roof (unknown cost) and the water main replacement project on Fifth Street ($400,000) would be the two capital projects, and the capacity building project would be the long-term financial planning policy.

“All we are asking at this time is for council’s support for applying for the funding,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we’re approving the projects or anything like that. Obviously, if we don’t get the funding we aren’t going to proceed with the projects.”

Contingency fund approved

Council approved the use of $15,000 of the contingency amount for the City Hall rebuild project. The amount is already included in the 2014 financial plan amendment and will be funded from surplus.

“As part of the project, we did some upgrades to the lighting on the second floor,” said Bird. “We did budget $30,000 for it in the 2014 financial plan. When the tenders came in they came in at $43,160 so it was $13,150 short. Insurance has since said they will not cover those costs.”

Butler asked if the lighting upgrades were to fix damaged lighting or to have “fancier” lights that insurance wouldn’t cover.

Bird responded by saying that none of the upstairs (second floor) lighting was damaged which is why insurance will not cover the upgrades.

“It’s not that were getting fancier lighting, we’re upgrading because the lights are some 20 years,” she said. “What we’ve done is go more efficient.”

Electrical utility bylaw opt-out

The electrical utility bylaw (Bylaw No. 1975) has been put on the backburner by council.

At the Dec. 15 meeting, staff recommended for council to give third reading to the repeal of electrical utility repeal bylaw 1543-R and third reading to its replacement electrical utility regulatory bylaw 1975.

Council voted to refer both readings to the Jan. 12 meeting to allow for more discussion.

At the meeting, Alex Love, the city’s electric consultant, gave a presentation on the bylaw and answered questions from council.

The new bylaw features the addition of solar photovoltaic net metering. It will also add a provision for other IPP (independent power producer) projects at the discretion of electric utility and with proviso of no negative operating or financial impacts.

“Which will make it easier for us to review other applications without having to go back to council while having the guiding principle established, said Love.

Butler brought up concerns about radiation from the hydro meters and how some areas such as Nelson have an opt-out clause.

“If council desired we could introduce a radio read meter opt-out program similar to Nelson or maybe a bit different depending on the wishes that would be practical,” said Love.

Love said it would not be an analog meter but rather a digital meter without the transmitter.

“I think meter opt out programs are not for the masses,” he said. “There is statistically a very small percentage of customers that will take advantage but what they are for is those small number that’s why there are charges like the set up charges so it doesn’t come at a cost for the remaining rate payers.”

Acting CAO Diane Heinrich said that council could add the opt-out clause as an amendment to the bylaw because it’s only at second reading.

Butler told the Gazette after the meeting that opt-out options are becoming more popular with cities around the region and with Fortis because of concerns with RF radiation.

“It’s something we don’t have at present in our electrical bylaw,” she said. “For legal reasons it could be a protective measure for our city with the law suits that are being brought forward.”

She added that it’s also important for people to have freedom of choice.

“It’s their homes and their health,” she said. “They should have an option to protect themselves from something they might think is a danger to their health.”

Coun. Neil Krog spoke against the referral during discussion of the bylaw.

“I don’t want us to be seen us putting up road blocks to people that are trying to get it this far so they can then proceed with their own projects,” he said.

“I think the newer members of council need some time to be comfortable,” said Coun. Chris Thompson. “This is the first really big reading we’ve had. Although things have been discussed and perhaps observed in the gallery or on GFTV.ca, I don’t think it’ll have that big of an impact to postpone it to our next reading.”

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